Surrey County Council, Procter & Gamble, PricewaterhouseCoopers
The public sector has a good record for working flexible hours with
"flexitime" operating in organisations in both central and local
government. In some areas, however, the arrangement has been taken a few steps
As the only local authority to be included on the ministerial working group
addressing the work-life balance, Surrey County Council has always had an
innovative approach to flexible working arrangements, supporting home working
and even opening a dedicated telecentre from where staff can pick up e-mails
and hot-desk to carry out administrative work. At the moment, the organisation
is in the middle of a five-year programme called Surrey Workstyle, a project
designed to promote the best use of time, space and technology.
The dedicated telecentre is scheduled for closure, but the concepts behind
the facility will be dissipated across area teams throughout the organisation.
Liz Mowl, senior HR officer with responsibility for Workstyle, explains,
"We hope to create individual team bases where employees can pop in to
check e-mails and carry out their work. This way, each team will still have
their own location in an office somewhere where they can hold meetings and so
on. We have found that the need for one location is important in terms of each
But while teams are waiting for their new "bases" to be created,
they have already been given the means by which they can design their own
working hours. The HR department has developed several working structures – Go
Ahead Frameworks – and a series of questions to help staff determine how best
their teams can work together.
"We are a very diverse organisation – some staff are still working nine
to five, while others have very sophisticated employment patterns," says
Mowl. "What we are saying to staff is wherever you are, take the next
step. If you’re on fixed hours, try staggered hours; if you have flexitime, try
a nine-day fortnight."
To ensure these new working arrangements are effective the council has
focused on giving managers the right skills to direct their remote team.
"Managing remotely does not require radically different skills but you
need to be clear and secure in how you’re managing each part. There are a lot
of issues around trusting people and managing by outcome rather than
input," she explains.
The HR department is working towards integrating the competencies needed for
remote management into the performance management structure. Managers are
expected to help individuals design their working arrangements according to the
"significant" life commitments they have. If there are care issues to
be dealt with, for example, the manager must discuss how staff can flex their
working hours in order to take these into account.
Making the best use of time under the Workstyle initiative is bound in with
promoting a healthier work-life balance among employees, but as Mowl points out
the initiative has other benefits in terms of securing better use of resources
county-wide. The council has a clear agenda to reduce the environmental impact
of its work and by offering flexible work in terms of location as well as time,
employees need only travel into work when necessary. Four-day weeks and
nine-day fortnights also cut the number of commuter journeys taken by the
council’s staff, and since Workstyle will eventually reach some 3,500 employees
the initiative will have an impressive impact.
Workstyle also has a property angle. By making the best use of working
space, through hot-desking and the creation of team bases rather than dedicated
offices, the council aims to reduce the number of buildings needed to house its
admin work. Money released by rationalising the property pool will be
channelled back into supporting front-line work – directly resourcing the
education and social services delivered by the council.
Procter & Gamble claims it has always been supportive of any
employee who wants to work flexibly. It helps with childcare provision and
offers three- and four-day working weeks as well as three-month career breaks
for every five years worked.
At the end of last year, the company ran a number of trials for an enhanced
flexible working scheme which has proved so successful that the ideas are now
being rolled out across the entire UK operation. In turn, this roll-out will be
closely monitored as a pilot scheme for future implementation across Europe.
"The trial was meant to run until April," explains Neill
Harvey-Smith, UK diversity manager at P&G. "But we had an update in
January and the results were so impressive that we were able to show senior
management that this was something we should be doing now. They agreed that we
should promote it where it makes business and personal sense."
Staff experimented with three flexible work initiatives – working from home,
job-sharing and creating their own work schedules. Each employee was closely
monitored with specific measurements taken both for their performance at work
and the impact the new arrangements had on their work-life balance.
By setting out these three broad areas of flexible working, the company
avoids being prescriptive about the kind of flexible work arrangements staff
"We try not to be specific," says Harvey-Smith. "The starting
point is that we say that the flexible working method has to be appropriate to the
nature of the work they are involved in. We are implementing this throughout
head offices, research and development establishments and across our production
plants. Clearly there will be different levels of flexibility at each
To ensure the flexible working arrangements match the potential of each
function, P&G set up a series of focus groups comprising cross-sections of
the workforce at sites around the UK. These groups are providing feedback about
their attitude towards flexible hours as well as discussing how this might
affect their productivity and work-life balance. "These focus groups mean
we can tailor the flexible working programme for the diverse working cultures
which exist from site to site," he says.
"We have to understand the nature of the working culture if we are
going to make any interventions which will change that culture. Having a policy
for flexible working is a good thing but it is not enough on its own."
While both trials and working groups are helping Harvey-Smith build an effective
implementation programme, the initiatives are also affecting employee
expectations. When roll-out is complete it will not seem so extraordinary that
staff find each other working from home at certain times.
"The trials and the working groups are part of our efforts to build a
coalition from the top down and from the bottom up to support the initiative
and to roll it out."
Both the trials and the working groups have been initiated by HR but
directed by multifunctional teams. Harvey-Smith believes this level of
involvement has been one reason for the programme’s success; another is the
creation of his own position as diversity manager, an integral part of which is
to coordinate progress towards flexible working solutions.
Cross-functional involvement is fairly usual in Procter & Gamble’s HR
department, but in this case it was clear all parts of the organisation had to
be consulted about the initiative, not least for legal and health and safety
reasons. "We had to make sure that whatever emerged from the trials, the
results would be of practical use for the company," says Harvey-Smith.
"At the same time, using a multifunctional team means we have secured
buy-in from diverse groups across the company.
"When Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand merged in 1998
it gave HR the chance to select best practices from the function in both
As a result, says senior HR manager with responsibility for work-life
balance and diversity Sarah Churchman, PricewaterhouseCoopers has an extensive
range of policies covering flexible working. But rather than launching these
policies as a single packaged initiative, the company aims to integrate the
approach into everyday working culture, making it an accepted way to operate
rather than a perk of the job or a special new initiative.
"We conduct an annual staff survey and we know that the work-life
balance is an issue for our staff," says Churchman, "What we are
exploring at the moment are the issues underlying that research – why do people
feel work and life are out of balance and what can we do to correct it?"
She also points out that part of this questioning process can be seen as an
exercise in reminding staff of the opportunities that already exist. In theory,
any employee wishing to flex their working hours should be able to do so with
the support and encouragement of their manager. Yet while good policies exist
they are not always taken up.
PwC is developing a policy to govern homeworking, and this will slot in
alongside its other flexible work measures covering flexible hours for child
care or the care of other relatives, career breaks and secondments for the
pursuit of other interests whether educational or personal. For these policies
to be accepted and used effectively, however, Churchman acknowledges the company
must challenge the working culture of their business.
"There is a strong tradition of long hours and presenteeism within
professional services," she says. "We are also keen to move away from
‘eyeball management’ where people have to be seen to be working. We are at the
point where we recognise we can address these issues through a variety of
mechanisms, whether it be through homeworking or hot-desking in the office.
She continues: "We are trying to move away from focusing on input – the
number of hours worked – and instead switch that focus to the work
produced." This shift in focus has been supported in other areas of
employment practice including remuneration, where overtime pay has been
switched to bonus pay.
While this shift in focus will result in a stronger emphasis on productivity
in the company and could result in a far more effective use of time and space,
Churchman says the main driver for integrating flexible working into the
workplace is to support and promote the diversity of the workforce. Moreover,
she hopes flexible working will be a useful tool for attracting high-calibre
staff into the company. "The war for talent means there are fewer people
out there with the skills we need to recruit. Therefore we need to make
ourselves more attractive. Research shows us that today’s graduates do not want
to work the long hours their parents did – they want a more balanced
Flexible working ensures PwC is able to support each individual in the way
best suited to them. According to Churchman this is why PwC has not made a song
and dance about its flexible working arrangements. She believes appreciating
diversity is one of the company’s key values. So rather than launching a set of
values, the company needs to develop them in such a way that they adequately
supported. As Churchman points out PwC is in a privileged position as the
company culture is still fairly new and can be shaped and influenced by HR.
"Flexible working is not something that will just happen overnight, and
companies which believe it will are kidding themselves," cautions
Churchman. "But we are putting all the right things into place – we have
the vision and we are promoting work-life quality. If we continue to do that
then the company values will naturally be built into the organisation."